Friday, December 23, 2011

Sneak Peek

I've been spending a lot of time in the sewing nook the past few weeks working on little things for the holidays. Since it's just a couple days until Christmas and there is a really good chance no one is looking at my blog before then, I thought I'd share a little glimpse of the projects I'll be gifting this year -- aside from the quilt which I gave a full look at the other day.

Any guesses?! Here's hoping no one figures it out before the 25th!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Cookies

This week, the boy and I spent a night baking and decorating Christmas cookies. Although I try to make this a yearly tradition, I don't have special recipes for the cookies or icing that I use each time. I usually just look around the web until I find one that sounds interesting. This year, I stumbled upon this recipe for the cookies and decided to try it because of the almond extract -- which I LOVE. Before even baking the cookies, we were in smitten! This recipe will definitely be saved and most likely become part of a yearly tradition.

For the icing, I was going to try the recipe on the same site as the cookies, but couldn't find meringue powder so I searched for a different royal icing recipe.  I found this one from Alton Brown and picked it mainly because I had all the ingredients on hand. It was so-so and probably won't be a repeat, but was really easy to throw together and definitely has not kept me from having a cookie -- or two, or three -- each night.

So, after we baked up our cookies and whipped up the icing, we chose to color a third of the icing red, a third green, and leave a third white.  Although our red looked red while mixing, it quickly turned into a very bright, hot pink!  Still looks cute on the cookies, just a little less traditional :) We put the three colors in Ziploc bags and cut a small opening in the corner so we could pipe them onto each cookie.

Boyfriend has not done this in many many years and was fascinated by the Ziploc bag trick. 

We just kept on going until we had plates full of cookies! Along the way, we 'tested' the broken or deformed ones and approved of their quality :)

To top off the Christmas-y, fun-filled night, we took the puppies and drove around looking at Christmas lights.  It was one of the most fun ways to spend a weeknight! 

Hope everyone else is getting their fill of holiday activities before they fly by!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

I've been seeing some beautiful Christmas tree pictures around the web and decided to try my hand at photographing my tree to look as lovely as the rest. I've read the key to these wonderful pictures is a slower shutter speed so the camera is able to capture more light. Typically, this would require a tripod since the photos take longer to record and any movement would cause blur. I currently don't have one, so I just tried balancing my camera on the counter, coffee table, and anything else that seemed stable. Here are some of my best -- aka, least blurry -- pictures.

The pictures really do seem to glow more than the first ones I took of the tree a couple weeks ago -- or at least I tell myself that since I spent so much time playing with the camera.  Either way, it really was fun making small adjustments and seeing how each picture turned out. Maybe by next year I'll have a tripod to rest the camera on and be able to really slow things down!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I've Been a Quiltin'

I decided to make my first ever quilt this Christmas for boyfriend's 2-year-old niece.  She is the most girly of girls, so I chose the most princess-like fabric I could find. I ordered a layer cake in the Pink, Puttin' on the Ritz fabric line by Bunny Hill Designs.  I love that the colors are all shades of pink, grey and ivory and are without question, fit for a princess.
Since it was my first quilt, I didn't want to start with something overly complicated. The squares in the layer cake are 10x10, so I decided to cut them in half and use 5x10 'bricks' to piece the quilt together.  To determine how many of the 42 squares I would use, I opened my favorite and most trusted computer program, Excel, and started drafting the quilt top. To break up the repetitive bricks, I decided I wanted one row to be personalized and special so I settled on this design.

The dimensions in the drawing are the cut sizes and the approximate finished size takes into account the *hopefully* quarter inch seem allowance -- assuming I can be somewhat accurate with each block.

Since I only needed 25 of the 42 squares, I picked out my favorite prints and started cutting my pieces.  The squares-turned-bricks were a simple, single  cut down the middle. Once that was done, I arranged the 50 bricks where I wanted -- mainly making sure the same fabrics weren't touching -- and then started sewing one row at a time.  After I had 10 separate rows, I decided to stagger every other one so they wouldn't perfectly line up like they were in the original drawing.  For example, I shifted the second row to the left by 5", cut that last brick in half and attached the small piece to the right side of that row.  I did this with the 5th, 7th, and 9th rows as well.

Once that was done, I attached the first three rows together and the last seven rows.  I ordered coordinating fabric for the special row and my binding and cut them to the sizes I had determined above.  Before attaching them to the rest of the quilt, I decided to sew her name. I had never done anything like this before and if I messed up, I figured it wouldn't ruin the whole quilt since it was still separate and I could try again or come up with a new plan. 

In order to attach her name, I used Heat'n Bond Iron-On Adhesive. I started by printing off letters that were 5"-6" tall from my computer. Then I traced them backwards -- using the window or glass with a light under it -- onto the rough side of the Heat'n Bond and cut roughly around each letter. I then peeled off the smooth side and ironed them on to the wrong side of my fabric, which were just additional squares from my layer cake.  I then cut them out along my traced edge, flipped them to the right side and arranged them onto the white row where I wanted. To make sure they were even, I did some measuring on the sides and bottom before peeling off the backing and permanently fusing them. Then I used a pink coordinating thread to stitch along the edge to make sure they stay put through future washings.  I don't have pictures of this part, but I just followed the instructions on the Heat'n Bond package and manged to get it right on the second try :)

Once that was done I attached the grey 2" strips to the name piece and then to the top and bottom portions of the quilt. It was finally looking like one whole quilt top!

I did manage to quilt the whole thing last night following The Polkadot Chair's quilting process.  I chose to quilt in the seam on each row and added a second and third line to the right and left. So, each seam had three quilting lines and all were running horizontal. I chose not to do any vertical lines because I didn't want to sew through the name piece. I did end up with over 36 quilting lines no further than 4" apart, so it should be plenty to keep it together! Next on the agenda is binding it, washing it, and wrapping it up all nice and pretty before Christmas!

For now, here's what the finished quilt top looks like -- these pictures are also the most accurate in terms of what the colors look like in real life.

Assuming the last few steps go well, I will hopefully have a finished quilt to show off in the next couple days!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Crafting

With the cold, dark nights creeping in so early these days, my desire to stay in most evenings has given me tons of time to cross a few quick and simple projects off my craft to-do list -- aka my 'craftiness' board on Pinterest. First up, some Christmas Coasters and Ornaments.

These two were super simple and I was able to do them while watching a Christmas movie after work one night. Allow me to demonstrate my process with the following equation:

Object with a smooth top + Pretty Scrapbook Paper + Mod Podge = Christmas Ornaments and Christmas Coasters

It doesn't get much easier than that! Okay, so a little more detail...

For the coasters, all you need are bathroom tiles -- I got mine for 16 cents at Home Depot,-- scrapbook paper, and mod podge.  I also added some cork to the back of mine so they would look more finished and not scratch one another, but that is totally optional. To make them, simply cut your paper slightly smaller than your tile, add mod podge to the back of paper and smooth onto the tile. I took a pencil -- or any other smooth object near by -- and ran it from top to bottom to get all the air bubbles out. After they dried for 20ish minutes, I added a layer of mod podge over the top to 'seal' them. Then, after they've completely dried you can cut cork board to the proper size and add to the back. And you're done -- rest your favorite drink on them and enjoy!

The ornaments followed the same process except that I used wooden letters from Hobby Lobby and painted them a subtle champagne color before adding the scrapbook paper. Once they were dry, I traced the letter onto my paper, cut it out and did the same process with the mod podge. I also signed the back so I'd remember who they were for and when they were made, added some ribbon to pretty them up, and hung them on the tree!

I also made a couple that I added to presents to make the gift a little more fun and personal.  They're so simple, there's still plenty of time before Christmas to make a few!